June 20, 2019

Luján Initiative to Protect Chaco Canyon Approved by House

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján’s effort to secure a one-year moratorium on oil and gas drilling near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives – a significant step toward final passage. Assistant Speaker Luján’s amendment was adopted for the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies fiscal year 2020 appropriations package. That funding package is set to be approved by the House next week.

A one-year moratorium is a critical victory for the greater Chaco region and a major step toward a permanent ban that will forever protect this extraordinary sacred land. This language holds Interior Secretary David Bernhardt accountable by codifying his agreement for a one-year withdrawal from these lands for oil and gas leasing consideration.

Assistant Speaker Luján and Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) have been steadfast advocates for safeguarding New Mexico’s sacred sites. Earlier this year, Luján and Haaland introduced legislation to permanently protect the greater Chaco Canyon region from harmful oil and gas drilling.

Luján’s amendment prohibits federal funding to be used for further mineral development around the Chaco Culture National Historic Park on federal lands for one year. It does not affect the mineral rights of an Indian Tribe or member of an Indian Tribe to trust land or allotment land.

“This is a critical milestone in our fight to safeguard New Mexico’s sacred lands – and major momentum for passing my legislation to permanently protect Chaco Canyon from harmful oil and gas drilling. Chaco Canyon is the ancestral homeland of thousands of New Mexicans – rooted in a rich cultural history that makes it unique to the world. It is our responsibility to honor the legacy of the Chacoan people – and the indigenous communities that call it home – and protect this incredible landscape for generations to come,” said Assistant Speaker Luján.

“Chaco is a beautiful piece of our planet that we as New Mexicans value, and that the rest of the world deserves to have for future generations, but it is continuously threatened by oil and gas drilling. Today’s vote is a step toward permanent protections for Chaco, so future generations can enjoy this meaningful world heritage site, and the Pueblo people still have access to our ancient homelands for years to come,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland, who chaired a Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands hearing on the bill to permanently protect Chaco in early June.

"The Navajo Nation strongly supports the protection of the Chaco landscape to preserve the cultural and historical teachings that many tribes continue to pass on to younger generations to this day. The protection amendment is another step forward in the right direction. Vice President Myron Lizer and I thank Congressman Luján for being an advocate for the Chaco landscape and for New Mexico tribes in general," said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

“The Greater Chaco Region contains invaluable Pueblo cultural resources that must be protected for the cultural survival of our people.  The All Pueblo Council of Governors thanks Congressman Luján for his important work to protect Chaco, including his amendment to the appropriations bill that would protect Pueblo cultural resources located on federal lands within a critical area surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  When enacted, the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act will permanently protect these cultural resources,” said All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman E. Paul Torres.    

"For too long, the BLM has sold off the land in Greater Chaco for industrial fracking with no regard for the health and safety of our communities or the impact on our cultural sites," said Samuel Sage, Community Service Coordinator, Counselor Chapter House. "We appreciate this important step toward protecting our ancient lands and our living communities."

"For the first time, Congress is taking action to protect Chaco Canyon's treasured landscape, thanks to the leadership of Assistant Speaker Luján," said Michael Casaus, New Mexico State Director for The Wilderness Society. "We encourage the Senate to support this locally-backed effort and ensure future generations inherit a place that has not been permanently scarred by unchecked oil and gas development."

"Local communities have made it clear that expanded fracking in Greater Chaco threatens our region's rich cultural history, public health, and Indigenous rights," said Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Director Camilla Feibelman. "We applaud Congressman Luján for his leadership to protect this special place and the people who live there."

“Many Chacoan sites exist outside the Park's official boundaries, so lease sales by BLM in the surrounding area almost always mean the loss of artifacts, history, and sacred sites as well as wildlands, habitat and dark skies. Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján’s amendment to the House Interior-Environment Appropriations spending bill represents a major step forward toward permanently protecting the area’s rich cultural heritage, world-class archaeological resources and sensitive natural landscape,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild. “We are grateful for Assistant Speaker Luján’s leadership fighting for a budget that reflects New Mexico values. We call on Congress to do the right thing and pass this bill.”

Press Contact

Lauren French (202) 225-6190